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African Prison Project celebrates 10 years

This month African Prison Project marks 10 years dedicated to serving the most vulnerable in African prisons ... with an ambitious plan for the future.

Having begun its work in East Africa, APP looks ahead to its next chapter as it seeks to develop the world’s first prison-based law college there.

“Our dream is of a world where the law serves and protects us all”, shares Alexander McLean, Founder of the African Prison Project and a graduate of Tearfund’s Inspired Individuals initiative.

APP exists to bring dignity, hope and justice to prison communities in Africa and beyond. It began by providing healthcare and education services after Alexander’s experience of a Ugandan prison during his gap year. Returning with funds raised in the UK, he founded the charity as a student studying Law at Nottingham University, to improve conditions for prisoners and prison staff, and became one of TIME magazine’s 30 People Under 30 Changing the World.

Since then APP’s healthcare model has been implemented by the Ugandan government. It has renovated clinics, built libraries and developed educational programs in prisons throughout Uganda, Kenya, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

Alexander has visited more than 130 prisons in more than 15 countries – from America to Zimbabwe.

“I saw that prisons are filled with poor people, who’ve often had limited access to quality legal services. We’ve been asking ourselves, would the world be different if those who’ve experienced conflict with the law became lawyers? How would it be if the poor accessed the same quality of legal services as the rich? Would our prisons be less full? Would our nations be more just? Now, we train prisoners and prison staff to become lawyers.”

A prisoner shows Alexander McLean bead
work at Luzira Prison, Uganda

APP partner with the University of London to support more than 60 prisoners and prison staff studying law via their International Programme. From legal education and leadership development among prisoners and prison staff, APP is committed to empowering a community of individuals – their changemakers – who can use the law to persistently pursue justice.

“Anyone can be a changemaker; from Pete the former death-row prisoner who received a standing ovation after his TEDGlobal talk this year, to those who support our work with their time, energy and resources. Our mission is to develop this global community of 'changemakers' who will relentlessly advocate for justice and equality.” says Alexander McLean.

APP has also gained great support from key organisations, such as Tearfund, who have supported Alexander through his journey as a graduate of their ‘Inspired Individuals’ programme.

“Being part of Tearfund’s Inspired Individuals programme gave me a superb peer-group, helped me understand my own strengths and weaknesses, and explore how my faith and values could be manifest in my work. I really valued the support of my coach, who gave me advice through various management and leadership challenges,” explains Alexander McLean (pictured).

“Over the years, I’ve become more attentive to my own spiritual formation and I try to balance my tendency towards action with increasing amounts of contemplation, so that my actions are more effective.”

“We’re incredibly proud to be celebrating African Prison Project's 10-year anniversary and their vision to put the power of the law into the hands of the poor,” says Nicola Temple, Head of Inspired Individuals at Tearfund.

“Alexander is an exemplary graduate of Tearfund’s Inspired Individuals initiative, which seeks to support and develop leaders who are rooted in compassion, servant-heartedness, courage, truth and Christ-centeredness. Many of the inspired individuals we work with have experienced tremendous challenges and pain in the development of their calling and vision for a different future.

“We have a catalytic role to play in supporting people who, like Alexander, are driven by such incredible love, compassion and a strong sense of justice to help them realise dreams that will change the social fabric of poverty and bring healing and restoration to communities around the world.”

Looking ahead to the next 10 years, Alexander has described APP’s exciting and ambitious plans, “We look forward to being instrumental in assembling world-class law teachers and practitioners to aid the training and development of transforming communities in Africa and beyond, by establishing the first prison-based law firm, offering legal education and legal services globally.”

APP’s vision to see prisons become places of positive transformation is shared with their staff, partners and graduates.

“We’ve experienced many challenges along the way, but much joy and encouragement too. We’re so proud of the accomplishments of all those we have been working with over the past 10 years who have chosen not to let their past define their future”, said Alexander McLean.

Main photo: Prisoners studying in the African Prisons Project library at Luzira prison, Uganda.

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